Victorian Government Tight-Lipped Over $100 Million COVID Bailout for Tennis Australia

Tennis Australia received taxpayer support during COVID-19.
Victorian Government Tight-Lipped Over $100 Million COVID Bailout for Tennis Australia
A ball kid wipes the court as Spain's Rafael Nadal watches during his men's singles match against Australia's Nick Kyrgios on day eight of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 27, 2020. (Photo by David Gray/ AFP via Getty Images)

Senior figures in the Victorian state government have refused to explain why a loan of $40 million (US$27 million) to Tennis Australia was forgiven, despite the organisation also receiving a a $63 million “contingency support payment.”

A ministerial briefing obtained by the Victorian opposition under Freedom of Information laws reveals that more than $100 million was spent to prop up Tennis Australia during the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19.

Treasurer Tim Pallas approved the deal, which included a condition that all unused portions of the $63 million support payment be returned.

The decision was supported by the Department of Treasury and Finance (DTF), which estimated that the cost of staging the 2022 Australian Open was “$70 million higher” than it otherwise would have been due to the Omicron wave and the 50 percent stadium capacity cap imposed by the government.

Assuming the state government was obliged to meet the entire cost, that still leaves about $30 million which, under the agreement approved by Mr. Pallas, ought to be repaid. It remains unclear whether any funds were, in fact, returned.

‘Commercial in Confidence’: Premier

Premier Jacinta Allan justified the payout by saying “There was a period of time through the COVID-19 pandemic where the event, like other businesses, like our health system, like households through the pandemic, needed extra support from the government.”

Any arrangements with Tennis Australia were commercial in confidence, she claimed.

Ms. Allan pointed out that the Australian Open contributed $357 million to the Victorian economy each year, and supported thousands of jobs. However, she refused to answer questions about why the national tennis body did not have to repay the loan.

Similarly tight-lipped is Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, Steve Dimopoulos. He pointed out that the event had been on the calendar “for decades” and that “it largely runs with pretty modest support from the Victorian taxpayer for the economic benefits it brings.”

However, he also declined to explain why the loan was waived when the organisation had also been handed another $63 million, saying, “If we start breaching all types of confidences with licence holders, we won’t be the events capital.”

“I’ve got to say, the Victorian taxpayer and future Victorian citizens have got the best deal out of our support for Tennis Australia and this tournament,” Mr Dimopoulos said.

He said the funds were part of negotiations with Tennis Australia to ensure the Australian Open would be held in Melbourne until 2046.

‘No Accountability, No Transparency’: Opposition

Shadow Minister for Tourism, Sport, and Events Sam Groth—a former professional tennis player—said taxpayers deserved to know about the deal.

“This is a commercially successful event. Why is the government stepping in to bail out something that is commercially successful? There’s been no accountability and no transparency,” he said.

“Major events must deliver value for money and a return on investment. Labor needs to explain why it spent more than $100 million of taxpayers’ money in secret deals to bail out what is a commercially successful event.”

Tennis Australia’s annual report for 2021/22 shows it made a profit of $4.66 million that year and that its cash assets increased by $82.46 million over the previous year.

The Australian Open is expected to draw record crowds—and thus generate record revenues for Tennis Australia—this month.